director's cut; Larry Gelbart on W C Fields's `The Bank Dick'

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
There's a scene in The Bank Dick where W C Fields is waiting in line in a bank. He turns around, sees a black man behind him and does this horrendous, racist double-take. There'd have still been segregation at that time (1940), though even then it was pretty outrageous to react in such a bigoted fashion. But everything Fields did was like that. I still think it's funny - I don't like to be politically correct. I'd rather be apolitical and incorrect as often as possible.

You could do that scene today, absolutely. It wouldn't be surprising to have a black man in a bank, though, given the social climate, you'd be afraid he was going to mug you or kill you. People feel uncomfortable about those reactions now, except for black people themselves, especially in America, who never stop making fun of the fact that you're white and you're uncomfortable about the fact that they're black. White people seem far more sensitive about it.

Fields made a lot of mileage out of hating kids, hating married life, hating the boss, hating his daughter's fiance... just hating. I don't think we've ever had anybody like him since: somebody you adored for being unadorable. Andrew Dice Clay was just too rough; he had none of Fields's skill. And where is he now? But Fields is in the pantheon of American film comedians.

n Larry Gelbart is a writer-producer, whose credits include `Tootsie', `Movie, Movie', `Oh God', the TV show of `M*A*S*H' and the stage musical `City of Angels'